'Don't show Sarfraz the door but remind him that it exists'

Published December 31, 2018
Sarfraz Ahmed's willow in the five-day format has stopped yielding runs. — AFP
Sarfraz Ahmed's willow in the five-day format has stopped yielding runs. — AFP

Before I do this, let it be known that I am a born-and-bred Karachiite, and as big a Sarfraz Ahmed fan as any. Where our limited-overs side has gone under him is truly remarkable. He took a dysfunctional bunch and made them the top-ranked T20I side and won the Champions Trophy in the 50-over format.

Statistically speaking, Sarfraz (63.15 win percentage) has been a far more successful captain in ODIs than the great Wasim Akram (61.46), the cerebral Javed Miandad (44.16) and even the legendary Imran Khan (55.92).

In T20Is, no one comes close to the Buffer Zone resident who's won a ridiculous 92.31pc of the matches he's captained.

That was all the good, and now towards the bad and ugly.

Since taking over the Test reins from Misbahul Haq in 2017, Sarfraz has captained Pakistan against five sides. First up was an easy home series against a weak Sri Lanka side; Pakistan were swept 2-0 with Sarfraz averaging 29.75 across four innings.

Against the easy looking Ireland in 2018, Pakistan would have lost, had it not been for debutant Imamul's match-saving 74. Sarfraz's per-innings average in that game was a mere 14.

Soon after, Pakistan garnered acclaims for drawing 1-1 against England in England, but it was despite Sarfraz's contribution (or lack thereof) than because of it. His batting average for the series was an abysmal 10.33.

It was only on the batting friendly pitches of UAE and against a depleted Australian side that he finally found some runs. In the second Test, he scored a 91 and another 84 to see the side clinch the series.

It was expected that now back in form, he'd do the same against New Zealand. He didn't, or rather, couldn't. In that three-match home series, he averaged a lowly 22, with his highest score across six innings being a mere 30.

The nadir of Sarfraz's batting struggles came recently when he suffered the ignominy of being dismissing for a 'pair' against South Africa. He spent a combined total of 12 mins at the crease, faced 6 balls and contributed a naught and a naught.

Read: Is Sarfraz the weakest link?

If that doesn't make a damning indictment, how about the fact that Sarfraz hasn't touched his career batting average of 36.88 in three years.

There's certainly a problem here.

Sarfraz has been out of form for quite some time. And let's be honest with ourselves, his wicketkeeping was always average at best. It was his runs and leadership that covered for the chink in his armour.

But now the runs have dried up and the chink is there for all to see. Question is do we want to see it?

Before Sarfraz, 31 different men had captained Pakistan in the longest format. A team not performing under a captain has been a recurring theme in Pakistan cricket. But a non-performing captain, though not unheard-of, has happened very rarely.

This used to happen because the boards usually picked the most talented and the biggest star as the team captain. Sarfraz, however, was never the most talented or the biggest star. He was elevated because he was intelligent, street smart, squeaky clean and a decent overall contributor.

Game has changed now, and you can no longer carry captains just because they're captains. As tangible as good leadership is, it doesn't directly generates runs, which the Pakistan side often finds short of.

One thing working in Sarfraz's advantage is the fact that he does not have any real rivals. Mohammad Hafeez has retired, and Azhar himself has his own worries with the bat — although not as severe.

This dearth of competition may have indirectly contributed to Sarfraz's complacency and production lull. To solve this, it's imperative that the management develops an able backup, the presence of whom could keep the numero uno on his toes.

Remember this that no man, no leader, no media darling no superstar should ever be bigger than the cause of the team. With that in mind, perhaps it's time to trust Mohammad Rizwan — the perennial understudy — from time to time. You never know the man in the waiting could be the next Sarfraz.


The author is freelance sports writer and a die-hard fan of the Pakistan cricket team.

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